|Jake Johnson and Zooey Deschanel in New Girl, now airing its third season on Fox|
Many television shows drag on far too long, but there is something especially unsettling about watching it happen to a sitcom. While no less upsetting when a favourite drama goes awry, (see: Battlestar Galactica, circa Season 3), the best of dramatic television often succeeds and fails in taking the story in new directions, which means a viewer can easily parse where and how it goes wrong. With ever-growing regularity, TV dramas have enthusiastically embraced television's rich storytelling potential, working in shifting themes, character growth and evolving situations into their long stories. To single out just one current series: FX's Justified has had four strong seasons – even if one or two stand out more than the rest – and it has done this by allowing its main characters to go in and out of new situations, interacting with different and often stand out amazing new actors who come on board for a single season's story alone, leading (for example) to Margo Martindale's Emmy-winning turn in Season 2. As a result, Justified can not only survive the death of main characters and the moral decline of others, it can thrive because of it. But mainstream situation comedy is, well, still largely dependent on its situation – even the best and most accomplished among them are often by necessity static. Static doesn't mean stagnant however. (Bart and Lisa Simpson's perennial and perhaps even purgatorial childhood is still the exception and not the rule.) Having established its fundamental tone, central characters, and key relationships, there are innumerable and endlessly creative situations to work within. ABC's Modern Family, now its fifth season, is perhaps the best example of how strong writing and acting can do amazing stuff within clear and largely preset parameters.
I tend to return weekly to many of my favourite network comedies as much for feelings of comfort and familiarity as anything else. But when you begin to suspect that the show itself isn't living up to its side of the contract, that trust can often only stretch so far. And this puts even their biggest fans in a particular bind – a feeling not unlike when a close friend has overstayed their welcome on your couch. While some returning shows have been having exceptional fall seasons – CBS's Elementary is simply rocking its sophomore season – some returning comedies are making me eye the door for the first time: How I Met Your Mother, in its ninth (!) and final season; New Girl, in its third year; and most disappointingly, The Mindy Project, growing tired only in its second season.